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Esperanza Spalding: Esperanza (2008)

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Esperanza Spalding: Esperanza How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.

From a guest appearance on Stanley Clarke's The Toys of Men (Heads Up, 2007) to her self-titled debut, Esperanza Spalding is turning heads, and opening lots of ears. After an appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman, the host called the 23-year-old vocalist/bassist/composer "the coolest guest" he'd ever had.

Spalding is indeed cool, having enrolled at Berklee College of Music at 16, and ultimately becoming the institution's youngest professor in its history. She landed gigs with Patti Austin, Joe Lovano, Pat Metheny and others. Spalding's resume also includes work with Michel Camillo, Dave Samuels and, of course, Clarke.

Her flute-like voice sets the mood early on "Ponta De Areia," the Brant Fernando Rocha/Milton Nascimento composition was made famous by Wayne Shorter and covered by Earth, Wind & Fire. Sung in Brazilian Portuguese, the selection is as beautiful as ever. Leo Genovese contributes a charming piano solo, backed by Spalding's bass, with Jamey Haddad on percussion and Otis Brown on drums.

The title of "I Adore You," isn't a slow-moving ballad, but rather a highly percussive song. With additional vocalists, Horacio Hernandez on drums and Haddad on percussion, Spalding leads a chorus of scat. The bass helps underscore the piano solo. Hernandez punctuates with cymbals, snare and toms at precisely the right moments. Spalding leads on scat/bass duet, showing both her vocal range and crispness with consonants, which sometimes get lost when the vocalist is too fast.

"She Got to You" showcases not only Spalding's vocal and instrumental talents, but also her aptitude as a songwriter. With Donald Harrison complementing on alto saxophone, Spalding sings of a lover who's been swept away by another. The song shifts gears several times as Spalding goes from rapid-fire lyrics to something more subtle. She scats in a way reminiscent of Ella Fitzgerald, and easily shifts back and forth between scat and lyrics.

Spalding wrote nine of the twelve songs on Esperanza. The others are fresh interpretations of some classics, including a Spanish-lyrics version of the American jazz standard "Body and Soul," here titled "Cuerpo y Alma." Accompanied by a flexible lineup of session players, Spalding displays sass, warmth, soul and charm.

Track Listing: Ponta De Areia; I Know You Know; Fall In; I Adore You; Cuerro y Alma (Body & Soul); She Got to You; Precious; Mela; Love in Time; Espera.

Personnel: Esperanza Spalding: vocals, acoustic bass; Leo Genovese: piano, Wurlitzer (7), Rhodes (10); Jamey Haddad: percussion (1, 2, 4, 6, 10); Otis Brown: drums (1, 2, 5, 7, 9, 10, 11), background vocals (4, 7); Gretchen Parlato: background vocals (1, 4); Theresa Perez: background vocals (4); Horacio Hernandez: drums (4, 6, 8); Donald Harrison: alto saxophone (6, 11); Ambrose Akinmusire: trumpet (8, 11); Nino Josele: guitar (12).

Record Label: Heads Up International

Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


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